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The Belvedere

The Belvedere can be seen across the fields from the ancient footpath which leads from Coldred through Waldershare which is now part of The North Downs Way. Incidentally, this footpath was the route taken by Coldred children on their daily trek to the schoolhouse at Waldershare from 1903 to the 1920’s. The pathway continues past the school and onwards to Waldershare’s other architectural gem, the Furnese tomb in All Saints Church. Walkers on this footpath may have noticed that it heads directly for the mansion and only veers abruptly off to the left at the last moment to bypass it – the reason for this is as follows. In the 1400’s, John Monins relocated from his ancient mansion at Malmains to Waldershare and according to the historian Edward Hasted in his 1797 “The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent”, Monins built his new mansion across the existing footpath, but when the villagers tried to exercise their rite of passage on the footpath by going through the mansion, entry was refused and a diverted path was hastily established, which still remains today.

Locally called “The Monument”, the Belvedere Tower stands on the SW corner of The Wilderness – it is on private land and inaccessible to the general public. The name “Belvedere” translates as “good view” and it was built there specifically to benefit from the astonishing vista afforded from the top – on a clear day, The Nore (in the Thames Estuary) and the also French coast were reputed to be visible in the far distance before the intervening trees obscured the view. It is a replacement for an original, much more modest wooden building on the same site, but very little documentation exists of this earlier structure. It is possible it may have been constructed by Sir Edward Monins who was High Sheriff of Kent for the ill-fated Charles I – during the Civil War, it is said that Sir Edward hedged his bets by assisting both the Royalists and Cromwell, so a good look-out post would have been invaluable…

There is some debate over the identity of the architect for the Belvedere, which stands there today; foremost are designs by the late William Talman (who died six years before construction started) or Lord Burlington; but another possibility is Colen Campbell, a renowned proponent of Palladian architecture, who was patronised by Lord Burlington. According to the ledger account below, the first brick was laid by Sir Robert Furnese’ young son, Henry, on 16th August 1725; construction took two years at a cost of £1703 7s 4d (over £3.5 million in labour costs today). It is said that Sir Robert intended it to be used as a music room and, indeed, it was alternatively known as the “Music Tower” – the domed ceiling being specifically designed to enhance the acoustics, but the interior was never completed; Sir Robert died in 1733 and this beautiful scheduled Grade I Palladian building was abandoned and has remained incomplete ever since. For a few years in the late 1800’s, it is believed to have been used as a viewing stand for watching the horse races being staged at Waldershare.

There is a related story of a curse placed on the black-hearted William de Malmains of Waldershare for refusing to help a mother whose young daughter was lost in the woods. Later that day, he was confronted by the same woman, carrying the lifeless body of her child. The distraught mother cursed William for not helping when he could have done, saying his own daughter would likewise soon be dead and she continued with this somewhat strange prophesy “…thy broad acres shall never be without an unfinished work upon them…”. Within days his daughter, Alicia, mysteriously sickened and died. A broken man, William, died before his Waldershare mansion was completed and he was buried in St Radigund’s Abbey, Hougham in 1224; his ghost is said to wander the grounds of Malmain’s Wood to this day. Sir Robert Furnese’s Belvedere Tower has stood, unfinished, for 190 years and is likely to remain so until the derelict structure finally collapses…

At the present time, The Belvedere is close to collapse and far beyond economic repair. Estimates for “consolidation” (ie. simply restoring structural integrity) exceed £1million, and for complete restoration estimates exceed £5million. English Heritage made a grant of £54,000 in 1990, which covered the cost of temporary corrugated sheeting for the roof and some internal scaffolding to help maintain structural support.

One of the proposed plans by the Trust in 1996 for the Belvedere was to convert it for residential use and indeed, it would have made a spectacular house, but the plans were rejected by English Heritage. Despite recent attempts to save the building, it seems likely that procrastination between the various administrative bodies concerned has sealed its fate and observers will one day be faced with a pile of rubble where The Belvedere once stood. The first temporary roofing sheets were in tatters by 2007, and another temporary roof was eventually installed in an attempt to slow down the deterioration.

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